Saturday, June 7, 2008

hate hate crimes?

Many prosecutors I have spoken to believe that it is unneccessary to use the hate crime provisons.

I believe it is another tool to use.

Hate crime act's sparse use called 'absolute travesty'
By Jeorge

A Texas equal rights organization is marking today's 10th anniversary of the dragging death of James Byrd Jr. in Southeast Texas with a plea to the state attorney general for better prosecution of hate crimes.

The group claims that few reported hate crimes are prosecuted under a law enacted following the brutal murder.

Equality Texas said less than half of 1 percent of the 1,862 hate crimes reported from 2001 — when the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act was enacted — until 2006 have been prosecuted. It calls the rate an “absolute travesty” and urges Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to determine how the statute can be more effectively used.

But Abbott spokesman Jerry Strickland said the organization's criticism is misdirected, adding there is only so much the attorney general can do.
“The Attorney General's Office does not have jurisdiction to intervene in these types of cases without a request from the local prosecutor,” Strickland said.

He said the act, which allows prosecutors to increase the punishment range for crimes, clearly defines Abbott's role. It reads: “The attorney general, if requested to do so by a prosecuting attorney, may assist the prosecuting attorney in the investigation or prosecution of an offense committed because of bias or prejudice.”

Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, said the attorney general's response highlights the need for better advocacy of the act.
“It comes back to what we would hope, and that is that the Attorney General's Office live up to the act's intended purpose,” Smith said.

He said better training should be offered to local prosecutors to ensure they know how to successfully try the hundreds of hate crimes that are reported annually.

But Robert Kepple, executive director of the Texas District & County Attorneys Association, said there are numerous factors that help explain the low prosecution rate using the Byrd act.

Among them, he said, is the discrepancy on what's required to be reported as a hate crime.
“The statute for reporting is very, very broad, and that makes a huge difference,” Kepple said.

He said the vast majority of reported hate crimes are ones without any suspects, such as incidents of graffiti, and many others don't qualify to be tried under the act. He cited incidents of hate speech or expressions of hate as examples.

Kepple also said the state has a broad range of laws that could be used to deliver the highest possible punishment for a crime, without having to refer to the hate crimes act.
“You can see, there is a lot of circumstances where the hate crime enhancement is not really helpful,” he said.

Equality Texas isn't the first to call for Abbott to examine the Byrd act.

Last year, state Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Fort Worth, introduced a bill that would have required him to study its effectiveness. The bill was left pending in a House subcommittee.
Byrd, who was black, was dragged behind a truck on Huff Creek Road near Jasper on June 7, 1998. Three white men were convicted of his murder.